In the modern history of America, one decade stands out as more diverse, more unique than any decade before or since. The 1960s was the decade of flower power, peace and love. In the 1950s, young men formed street gangs and fought with knives. Greased hair and black boots were the order of the day. In the ’60s all that changed to an era of hippie communes, where youths, men and women alike, some in protest of the unpopular war in Vietnam, grew their hair long and wild and wore colorful clothes and love-beads, with bell bottoms flared. Drug use became popular, first pot and the psychedelic LSD, then harder and more dangerous drugs.
Not all the communes and communal families of the ’60s were dedicated to peace and love. Some were more receptive to the idea of mind control, just a short step from the brainwashing of a slightly earlier age. Mind control! A process in which a group or individual “systematically uses manipulative methods to force others to helplessly conform to the wishes of the controller.”
Charles Manson is the notorious and most infamous cult leader and mind control advocate who was able in those free-form ’60s to draw to himself a family of followers who murdered and tortured at his whim. Among the men and women of the Manson Family, Leslie Van Houten was the youngest, just turning 20, when she took part in the ritualistic murders of wealthy Los Angeles grocers Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Leslie Van Houten was born in Altadena, California, and had attended Monrovia High School, the class of ’67.
During her trial following the LaBianca murder, Leslie Van Houten said, ”I had a knife and Patricia [Krenwinkel] had a knife. We just started stabbing and cutting up the lady.” “I stabbed her. I don’t know if it was before or after death but I stabbed her.” Asked if she felt sorry: ”That’s only a five-letter word. It can’t bring back anyone.” ”What can I feel? It’s happened. She’s gone. You can’t undo something that’s done.” Asked if she felt ashamed, she replied, “What is ashamed?” Asked if she felt like crying, she replied, “For her death? If I cry, it’s for death itself. She’s not the only person who died.”
In to the book Helter Skelter which was published following the Manson Family slayings, an interviewer writes:
In interviewing Dianne, I learned a number of things which hadn’t come out in her earlier interviews…Leslie Van Houten, after admitting to her that she had stabbed someone, had commented that at first she had been reluctant to do so, but then she’d discovered the more you stabbed, the more fun it was.
Leslie Van Houten, now 64, has passed most of her life in the California Institution for Women. She was denied parole Wednesday by a board of two parole commissioners who said her crimes were “heinous and atrocious,” a factor that overwhelmed any consideration for parole.
At the parole hearing, Ms. Van Houten recalled a time when she and other members of the Manson Family Cult emulated Charles Manson by carving the letter “X” into their foreheads. In the hearing, which lasted eight hours, she said she was a “new person,” someone who now “lives a life for healing rather than destruction.” When the board denied her request, Van Houten showed no reaction and was escorted from the room.
“He [Manson] could never have done what he did without people like me,” Van Houten testified. Her lawyer reminded the parole commissioners that she was the youngest and least culpable of those convicted with Manson, a young woman from a good family who had been a homecoming princess and showed promise until becoming involved with drugs and being recruited into the murderous cult.
A former Manson follower, Barbara Hoyt, testified at the parole hearing. Hoyt was a family member, but by luck or design avoided direct involvement in the murder of the LaBiancas, or the earlier torture and murder of movie starlet and sex symbol Sharon Tate and her husband, film director and co-star Roman Polanski. Leslie Van Houten likewise was not present for those earlier grisly killings. Hoyt believed that Manson was primarily motivated by racial hatred. In her view, Manson convinced his followers to take part in a war between blacks and whites in the late ‘60s, instructing them that an apocalypse would follow. His part in the war he called “Helter Skelter,” after the Beatles hit. Manson is said to have heard subliminal messages in Beatles music.
Hoyt called Van Houten a leader within the Manson group. Van Houten knew a racial war was being planned. Hoyt said that life in the Manson “family” was hell; Van Houten, she said, was “having a good time in hell – she enjoyed it there!”
It was on August 8 that Sharon Tate and five others were tortured and murdered. Manson had chosen their home as a random location, and directed his people to kill everyone there. Some of the victims were hung in groups, and had foreign objects thrust into their bodies. The scene is described as one of the worst and bloodiest crime scenes in history.
The next night, August 9, Manson, in his drive to begin “Helter Skelter” with six Manson Family members including Leslie Van Houten, tortured and murdered an innocent couple, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, inside their Los Angeles home. Members of the Manson clan killed others following that bloody night.
At her parole hearing Leslie Van Houten testified that she knew about the Sharon Tate murders. She said that when she heard the Manson family had killed Tate and others, she felt “left out” and asked to go along the second night.
She said, “I feel that at that point I had really lost my humanity and I can’t know how far I would have gone. I had no regard for life and no measure of my limitations.” Prosecutors at the parole hearing said, “Today after 44 years, your crimes still instill fear in innocent people,” “The motive was the worst I can imagine, to incite a race war. Your crimes were gruesome and bloody.” Van Houten said she was traumatized by her parents’ divorce when she was 14. Following that, she became pregnant, and then had an abortion. The prosecutor responded, “Many people have traumatic childhoods. You have failed to explain at this time what would cause you to commit such horrific atrocities.”
Susan Atkins died at age 61 at the California Institution for Women at Frontera. She was present at the Sharon Tate murder. She admitted to holding down pregnant Sharon Tate, and stabbing her 16 times. She admitted too that Tate had had “asked me to let her baby live…I told her I didn’t have any mercy on her.”
Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, at 60, was released on parole in 2009 after serving 34 years for trying to shoot then-president Gerald Ford in 1975. She had been one of the original Manson members, and remained loyal to him.
Patricia “Katie” Krenwinkel is serving life in the same institution. Sam Grogan agreed to tell authorities where the body of murdered Donald Shea was in exchange for parole. The remains were found, and Grogan was paroled in 1986. Bruce Davis in serving life in the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo for murdering Gary Hinman and Donald Shea. His most recent plea for parole in the year 2000 was refused.
Bobby Beausoleil was convicted in the murder in 1969 of Gary Hinman; he remains in prison.